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Culture

German Youth: Behaving Badly?

Germany is facing a epidemic of ill-manners among its young people, according to business leaders and politicians. They want to see behavior classes in schools to correct the conduct of increasingly uncouth youth.

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Bouts of bad behavior are on the increase.

Dieter Hundt, president of the Confederation of German Employers’ Association, complains the country's young people have lost their manners.

While he doesn’t particularly like to see spitting in public or hear a stream of curse words coming out of a teenager’s mouth, he says the loutish behavior common in the under-twenty set is even starting to impact the workplace. According to his organization, some 15 percent of young applicants for jobs and apprenticeship programs don’t know how to behave in civilized society.

“For some time, companies have been faced with the problem that school graduates often lack knowledge of the most basic rules of conduct,” he told the Berliner Zeitung newspaper.

He wants to see German schools add courses in refinement to their offerings of reading, writing and arithmetic. He’s not insisting on Emily Post-level etiquette, but says German young people have forgotten how to interact with one another and the larger society in a civilized way.

“No one can deny that something on the front-end is going terribly wrong,” said Hundt.

Consensus: something needs to be done

He’s not the only one who thinks so. In fact, in a recent survey by the research institute Infratest, 77 percent of the population are in favor of some sort of comportment classes in German schools. Only 20 percent think classes that teach behavior basics are not necessary.

In the federal state of Saarland, the debate over deportment has convinced the minister in charge of education of the necessity of putting manners into the curriculum. Christian Democrat Jürgen Schreier is bringing together a commission of educators, psychologists and other experts to work out a way to inculcate behaviors that he says are necessary for the society to function well, such as respect for others, cleanliness, a neat appearance and politeness.

“Certain behavioral fundamentals should be sprinkled throughout the regular curriculum,” he told the newsmagazine Der Spiegel. “I’m not saying, for example, that manners should be taught during third period on Mondays.”

Teaching those P’s and Q’s

But that’s just what a school in the city-state of Bremen is doing. This year Karl Witte, a director at the Bremer Schulzentrum an der Flämischen Strasse, has introduced a new class called “Interaction, Behavior, Conduct.” Designed for students around the age of 11, the one hour a week of instruction in the art of decorum is supposed to head off loutish behavior later on. According to Witt, children have to learn good behavior “like they learn vocabulary.”

In his class, students and their parents sign a document containing 14 “basic rules” of behavior. Curse words are forbidden, greeting one another politely is desired, and spitting on the school grounds is an absolute no-no.

Witte’s gotten support for his battle against boorishness from a variety of sources, including other instructors, who complain that teaching kids who are increasingly growing up without manners is getting harder and harder. Other federal states have expressed interest and Hamburg is considering its own program to pass on values and virtues to its own students. Parents in Bremen have been enthusiastic supporters.

“Many of them are saying, finally, something’s happening,” Witte said.

Polite disagreement

Martin Wansleben, manager at Association of German Chambers of Commerce, echoes the sentiment of his colleagues in the business world who complain that today’s young applicants lack maturity and social competence. But he says everything shouldn’t be left to the classroom.

“Parents are also have a duty. They have to teach their children values like responsibility, punctuality, honesty and teamwork,” he said.

But the new emphasis on comportment is not without its critics. The Green Party in Saarbrücken, where courtesy training is headed for the classroom, calls such teaching “education out of the Stone Age.” “We’d rather have brash, critical and obstreperous young people any day than dull, deadened and assimilated ones like the kinds we know from earlier days in our history,” said Christian Klein, Green Party state chairman.

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